When the new state legislature convenes in January, the Norwich City Council will have a “to do” item for its delegation – treat the Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium fairly when it comes to handing out ticket sales tax exemptions to other baseball stadiums.
Norwich attorney Glenn Carberry, the man who led the effort to build the stadium to bring a minor league baseball team to Norwich in 1994, brought the discrepancy to light during an Aug. 1 presentation to the City Council.
Carberry explained that the new unfinished Hartford minor league baseball stadium, along with the New Britain stadium that houses an independent team both received new exemptions from the state legislature to the 10 percent ticket admissions tax. In those cases, the municipalities are allowed to retain the 10 percent revenue to pay for stadium construction or improvement bonds.
As Dodd Stadium now is more than 20 years old, Carberry argued, and in need of improvements already enumerated by the Baseball Stadium Authority, Norwich should “forcefully seek equal treatment.”
The City Council last week unanimously approved a resolution directing City Manager John Salomone to request the same arrangement for Norwich. While the resolution makes reference to existing state law that would allow Norwich to impose an additional 5 percent surcharge on tickets to pay for stadium improvements, Salomone said he will request that Norwich be allowed to retain the 10 percent admissions tax now turned over to the state to help pay for stadium improvements.
The Connecticut Tigers minor league team drew a team-record 82,488 this past season, with ticket prices that ranged from $7 to $10 for stadium seating and $20 for skybox seats, generating more than $70,000 in admissions tax revenue, Salomone estimated.
Last November, the Stadium Authority submitted a request for eight major and minor upgrades needed to the stadium, some of which should be addressed prior to the 2017 season. Chief among them is the need to replace stadium lighting, which now fails to meet professional baseball standards, with new LED lights at an estimated cost of $400,000. Not on the November 2015 list is a plan to extend the foul ball safety netting to the ends of each dugout. The authority is obtaining cost estimates and engineering designs for that work.
Authority members have expressed frustration at recent meetings that they have not heard back from city leaders on the stadium improvements requests, noting that it can take months to secure funding approvals and bid prices for the major work. The Tigers’ 2017 season will start in mid-June.
Salomone said Friday he will ask the Stadium Authority to create an updated prioritized list of needed upgrades and present it to the City Council at a meeting later this fall. Salomone said some big ticket items – his own priority would be for life-safety items and professional baseball requirements – could be funded through a bond. Smaller items or those not urgent could be scheduled in the city’s annual capital improvements budget.
If the city obtains state approval to retain the admissions tax revenue, that money could help pay for the debt service on the bond or for the lower cost repair items, Salomone said.
Carberry, who did not attend last week’s council meeting, applauded the city’s action.
“I am pleased that the council has taken the first step to ensure equal treatment for Norwich,” Carberry said in an email comment. “Norwich is the only city in the state that has had minor league professional baseball continuously for the past 22 years, and we have been good stewards of our facility. Dodd Stadium was built on time, on budget for less than $10 million, and is owned debt-free by the city. The legislature made a mistake providing special treatment for Hartford and New Britain which have had trouble with their facilities, without including Norwich. We are hopeful that the southeastern Connecticut delegation will remedy this situation soon.”
By Claire Bessette, The Day staff writer
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